Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Adverbs: Parts of Speech in Writing

As I continue my journey through most of the parts of speech, today I’m going to write about adverbs. I’ve already written about action verbs http://jefflaferney.blogspot.com/2017/01/parts-of-speech-action-verbs.html and linking verbs http://jefflaferney.blogspot.com/2017/01/parts-of-speech-linking-verbs.html so the obvious next choice is adverbs. They’re the words that describe verbs, after all. Because I’m an author who is learning as I go, and because I’m an editor who tries to learn new things so I can give good advice, this blog will be about how to use adverbs affectively and how to avoid them to make your writing better.

So what is an adverb? An adverb is the part of speech that describes or “modifies” verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. They usually tell how something is done, but they also tell when, where, and to what extent. A large number of adverbs end with –ly which makes those words easy to identify.


Stephen King says the road to hell is paved with adverbs. He’s obviously generalizing, but a quote like that suggests writers should try to avoid adverbs. I’ll get to the words to avoid soon, but before I do that, I’m going to say that you can’t always avoid adverbs in your writing.  For instance, adverbs like now, later, then, soon, today, tomorrow, never, sometimes, before, after, forever, and many others—they tell when, and writing would suffer without “when” words. Adverbs like here, there, somewhere, anywhere, someplace, up, down, inside, and many others tell where. Those words are important. And just try to write without using words like too, so, not, and very. Those words typically describe adjectives and other adverbs, telling “to what extent.” I’m pretty sure Stephen King, though, is talking specifically about –ly words. I’ll get to specifics about those in just a bit.

First, however, I need to focus on a common grammar error regarding adverbs. Adverbs describe verbs; adjectives don’t. Adjectives describe nouns and pronouns. So when you’re describing an action, you need to use an adverb. A person doesn’t sing good; they sing well. Good is an adjective; well is an adverb. A person doesn’t talk loud; they talk loudly. A person doesn’t drive bad; they drive badly. Loud and bad are adjectives, but in the sentences, they are describing talk and drive. Both of those words are verbs, so they need adverbs (loudly and badly) to describe them. Knowing the parts of speech will help writers avoid grammar errors like those. And here is another issue with adverbs.


I mentioned that very is an adverb telling “to what extent.” But words like very, so, extremely, and really can definitely be overused, especially when there are good, specific adjectives you can use to avoid them. Instead of “very hungry,” a person could be “starving” or “famished.” Instead of “too loud,” music could be “raucous” or “deafening.” Instead of being “so happy,” a person could be “ecstatic” or “delighted.” Instead of being “really troubled,” a patient could be “anxious” or “distressed” or “unsettled.” Instead of “not happy,” a person could be “angry” or “dejected.”  So Stephen King could be right by saying adverbs are a problem. But most likely, he was talking about –ly words.



Before I get to that, however, adverbs could be a sign that you’ve used the wrong verb. A better verb needs to be used instead of a verb with the adverb modifying it. Instead of a person who “ran quickly” down the street, a writer could say he “raced” instead. Instead of saying “Martin spoke clearly,” I could say he “articulated.” Instead of saying the injured player “limped noticeably,” I could say she “hobbled” or “staggered.”

Next, adverbs can strip your writing of intensity, emotion, description, and action. Let’s say I’m writing and I include the following line of dialogue.

 He grabbed her arm tightly. “Come with me now,” he growled menacingly. “You won’t need a coat where we’re going.”

That seems descriptive, but how about this instead?

He seized Katie’s arm in his meaty hand. His gritted teeth and his cruel, bloodshot eyes alarmed her. “Come with me…now. You won’t need a coat where we’re going.” His threatening voice left no doubt that she was in danger.

Sure, the second example is wordier, but it’s descriptive. A reader can visualize the character, the action, and the emotional fear and intensity.  

Never use an adverb to modify the verb 'said' . . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange.  (Leonard Elmore) 

Also, adverbs can be an annoyance in dialogue. Their use makes for lazy “telling” instead of “showing.” There are many levels of problems with adverbs in dialogue tags. I’ve seen things like “he ordered demandingly.” Well, that’s redundant. Ordered implies—maybe even means—something was being demanded. Just say “he ordered” or “he demanded” or, better yet, "he said" and describe the manner in which it was said in the action.

Another issue is that the adverb is used when it is meaningless. It says nothing the reader doesn’t already know.

Bob slammed his fist through the drywall. “You make me so mad!” he said angrily.

Duh? Fist-slamming, exclamation mark, and the word mad aren’t enough? Heck, I don’t even need any kind of dialogue tag. Bob’s name is in the sentence. I know who said the words, and I know he was angry.


That leads to my final issue with dialogue tags using adverbs. Sometimes they literally insult our intelligence and become an inconvenient annoyance. Let’s say you were at a play and two characters were on the stage having a discussion. What if one said, “I need to get to the hospital”? Then a third party walks on stage and says, “Mike is anxious right now.” Then he exits the stage and the other character says, “I know you’re worried. How about if I drive you there right now?” Then the third party walks on the stage and says, “Jenny, is concerned and is trying to be compassionate.” Wouldn’t that be horrible? I mean, Mike could be biting his nails and pacing. He might have let out a big sigh. Jenny might have touched his arm with care and had compassion in her eyes. In the audience you can see the anxiety and concern. It’s the same way with writing. Show with your description how Mike and Jenny are feeling. Don’t tell it by saying “he said anxiously” or “she said compassionately.” Use your descriptive details and actions to show the emotion. And if there are only two people in the conversation, your paragraphing and characters’ names in the description will show who is speaking. Don’t annoy your readers by telling them things that they can ascertain themselves.


Adverbs are one of the eight parts of speech. They’re going to be used in your writing, whether in phrases or in individual descriptive details. But don’t overuse them. Learn how to identify them (-ly words in particular) and see how many you would do better without. It’ll make your writing better, and that’s what you want anyway, isn’t it?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Linking Verbs: Parts of Speech in Writing

The dictionary definition of expert is “a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area.” An English teacher, as an example, should be an expert in the grammar of the English language. He or she should know the basics thoroughly, understand the nuances, and be able to apply his or her language knowledge in an appreciable way. Most people would expect that from an English teacher. But what about a writer? Shouldn’t a writer be just as adept at the language as a teacher? After all, a writer is taking his or her creative ideas and using the language to express them in a way that a reader is able to understand, experience, and enjoy. However, many writers aren’t experts about the basics of the language, so I’m writing a blog series about the parts of speech, hoping to give some advice about better writing along the way. I believe an author should have comprehensive and authoritative knowledge about the language. Possibly, this blog will help.

In my first blog in this series, I wrote about action verbs because action is the easiest thing to understand, and verbs are possibly the most important words in a writer’s sentences. http://jefflaferney.blogspot.com/2017/01/parts-of-speech-action-verbs.html Today’s blog post will be about linking verbs. Linking verbs do not show action. They show state of being. Since all sentences have verbs, writing experts should have a clear understanding of the verbs that don’t show action and should be able to recognize them in sentences. Why? Because, plain and simple, action is better. We’ll get to that later. Below is a list of the most common non-action verbs.



The “be” verbs—the topmost list of words—all have the same meaning except for tense or whether they’re used with singular or plural subjects. They don’t do a thing. They just “be.” They are. They tell that something is. Helping verbs—generally, the middle list—don’t stand alone. They are either used in coordination with a linking verb or with an action verb to help it have meaning—She could be an angel. The car might run out of gas. The bottom list could be seen ending with an –s (seem or seems) or they could change tenses (smell or smelled). Depending how this list of words is used, they might show action or state of being. I can look out a window, or I could say the bread looks moldy. I did something when I looked out the window. The bread isn’t doing anything. It’s simply in a state of being moldy. There are other words that aren’t as commonly used that can show state of being as well, but the list above is fairly comprehensive.

So what’s the big deal? The issue is that a writer attempts to capture a reader, and action does that much better than inaction. In other words, active sentences are better than passive ones that just show a state of being.



In the process of writing Jumper, my time-travel, action/adventure novel, I wrote a blog post. http://jefflaferney.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-so-manieth-time-i-used-that-word.html It was about repetition and mentioned the fact that I used the word was 974 times before revision. One out of every 74 words was was. The book was supposed to be filled with action, yet I found I had a lot of revision to do just because of that one repetitiously-used word. I had a teen fan write me an email recently, asking me how to avoid passive sentences. There is no easy answer to the question, but I told her to do a word search for –ing words. Just type in ing and see what happens. If the word has was, were, is, am, or are in front of it, see if the two words can be changed to an action verb. Maria was huddling quietly in the corner can become Maria quietly huddled in the corner. Or Julia was singing joyfully can be Julia sang joyfully. This little test works with ed words also. The fort was attacked is a passive sentence, but to do a search for ed words could make you want to attack your computer.

Here’s a shortcut method for recognizing passive sentences. Try putting the words by zombies after your verb. If the sentence makes sense, it’s passive. The fort was attacked (by zombies). That makes sense; it’s a passive sentence. Zombies attacked (by zombies) the fort doesn’t make sense. That sentence is active, and low and behold, the second sentence doesn’t have a linking verb. It’s a shortcut which doesn’t work perfectly, but it might help you identify passive sentences. However, knowing your linking verbs would eliminate your need for zombies. Linking verbs, if you learn to recognize them, are passive, so you can actually revise as you’re writing.



Are you ready for grammar that might hurt your head? In my sample sentences above—the ones with the linking verbs—standing, singing, and attacked are not verbs. They're adjectives. They’re specific kinds of adjectives called participles, which are verbals (verb-like words) that describe nouns. Standing describes Maria. Singing describes Julia. Attacked describes the fort. I happen to know—because I taught English for thirty years—that some of you are thinking you were taught (taught is an adjective) that in the sentence Julia was singing joyfully that the subject is Julia and the verb is was singing. Well, you were taught incorrectly.  

Let me digress for a second. If your sentence was Maria was kind, angry, perplexed, wealthy, and sunburned, how is Maria being described? Adjectives describe nouns, most often telling what kind of a noun. What kind of person is Maria? She’s kind, angry, perplexed, wealthy, and sunburned. All those words describe Maria, just like singing does. What kind of person is she? She is a singing person. It’s describing her. What if I said Singing Maria is adorable? Would you say singing is a verb? Would you say adorable is a verb? I wouldn’t. I’d say they were describing Maria, telling me what kind of person she is. So if I said Adorable Maria is singing, there is no difference. Both words describe Maria regardless of their order. If you still disagree, let me ask you this. Julia was singing joyfully, correct? What if I said Joyfully singing, Julia inspired the audience to cheers. Would you agree that joyfully singing is an introductory phrase describing Julia and that the action verb in the sentence is inspired? Joyfully happy, Julia sang to her audience. Would you agree that happy is describing Julia? Huddling quietly in the corner, Maria wept at her loss. Huddling describes Maria, while wept is the action. Unmercifully attacked, the fort crumbled and burned. Attacked describes the fort while crumbled and burned is what the fort did. Do you know what else I did in my revised sentences? I created good sentence variety. The subject and verb were moved from the beginning of the sentences to the middle. Sentence variety is also part of good writing.


So those ing and ed words after a linking verb are not verbs; they’re participles—adjectives—and they are all parts of passive sentences. Those sentences aren’t showing action. They’re showing state of being—and honestly, the best way to understand is to be able to identify linking verbs because those are the words that are driving your passive sentences. Learn them and be a better writer by avoiding them the best you can. If you write them in your rough drafts, search for them in your editing process and revise as many sentences as you can to give them more variety and make them active. Your writing will be better, and your readers will notice.

***If you are a writer, looking for an editor, please visit this link and connect with me. http://jefflaferney.blogspot.com/p/the-red-pen-editor-page.html

Monday, January 16, 2017

Action Verbs: Parts of Speech in Writing


Our language is built on eight parts of speech. Those parts are the building blocks of every sentence every writer writes. They can be manipulated to express beautiful, romantic, inspiring, imaginative things, and they can be manipulated to express unintelligent or uninteresting things no one cares to read. The order of the building blocks creates variety, voice, and meaning (among other things). They determine where punctuation is to be placed. Knowledge of them elicits proper grammar. I taught English for thirty years, I’ve written five novels, and I edit books as a current “career.” I found it difficult to teach writing in the past, and I’m finding it even more difficult in the present to content and line edit without referencing or teaching the parts of speech. I imagine it would be no different than teaching auto mechanics without teaching the car parts and the tools to manipulate them. This entry is the first of a series of blogs by which I intend to help readers learn some things about our language that will help them become better writers. Because I’m ever-learning, maybe it’ll help me be a better writer and editor as well.


Teaching the parts of speech has one difficult obstacle that I’ve never figured out how to completely overcome. It’s extremely difficult to start with one and simply move along. They overlap. They work together. It’s hard to talk about one without ever mentioning others. They aren’t simply building blocks that one can build upon the other. However, experience has taught me that the best, most logical place to begin is with verbs. If one part of speech can be more important than another, then I vote for verbs. There are three kinds of verbs: action, helping, and linking. Today, I’m going to focus on action verbs. They’re easiest, and the writing tips that apply are especially important.

Action verbs show…well, action. Physical action is obvious, but action verbs include mental action—action of the mind (words like consider, wonder, believe, and hypothesize). Verbs tell what is being done. Some action verbs are transitive, leading to something that receives the action (Donald Trump said something stupid) and some are intransitive with nothing receiving the action (Hillary Clinton lied again). “Something” is the direct object of “said.” You could ask the question “Said what?” and the answer would be “something stupid.” “Lied” doesn’t have a direct object. You could ask “Lied what?” and there is no answer because lied is intransitive. This same thing can apply to mental action. I considered jogging. “Considered” is a transitive action verb with “jogging” as the direct object. I deliberated for less than ten seconds (because I don’t jog). “Deliberated” is an intransitive verb because there is no answer to “deliberated what?” That’s pretty much all you need to know about action verbs, so what’s the big deal?


The big deal is action spurs imagination. Our minds can visualize action. It can be pleasant looking at a picture, but watching a video is more likely to get our blood pumping. Writers need to use action verbs to create action-packed possibilities in our readers’ minds. All writers have heard the saying “Show; don’t tell.” Well, action verbs show. Instead of saying, “You’re brilliant,” he said sarcastically, you can say, Mike rolled his eyes. “You’re brilliant.” He shook his head as he walked away. The reader saw a scene of action and figured out that the speaker was being sarcastic.

How about this: The tips of Mike’s fingers met above the bridge of his nose. His thumbs hooked under his jaw, hiding his nose and mouth from my view, but I could see his wide eyes and his knee as it bounced frantically. That’s an action-packed description of Mike: met, hooked, could see, bounced. Or I could say this: Mike seemed scared. He was covering his face with his hands and his knee was bouncing uncontrollably. There are no action verbs in the second set of sentences. The verbs are seemed, was, and was. The first set is active while the second set is passive. Active is better.


And some verbs are better than others. “Thought” isn’t as specific as “planned.” “Walked” is far less specific than “hobbled.” Why say “ate greedily” when you can say “devoured”? Why say “read and remembered” when you can say “absorbed”? Something can break or it can chip, crack, shatter, or splinter. Words have specific meanings which paint specific pictures. (Let me interrupt and say that a thesaurus is a wonderful thing). What I’m obviously pointing out is that great action verbs can paint specific pictures, often saving the writer words.

But that leads me to mention something that is just the opposite. I’ve noticed many knowledgeable authors comment about dialogue tags. I’m going to throw in that many people don’t punctuate dialogue correctly (that will mostly be dealt with in another blog), but then I’m going to mention that many authors say the words “said” and "asked" are practically the only dialogue tags a writer needs. No author is going to write an entire novel without using a synonym for said at least occasionally, but what many successful authors are saying is to throw away the thesaurus for dialogue tags. All those wonderful synonyms aren’t needed--some are actually awkward and detract from the writing. So here is where everything I said above is thrown out the window for dialogue tags. Don’t use more specific words or add words to tell how the speaker is speaking. Again, you need to show instead of tell, especially when the telling adds –ly words (adverbs).


“Come here,” Lexi purred seductively should be more like “Come here,” Lexi said. She beckoned with her finger, lust in her eyes.

“Put your hands in the air,” Duke growled menacingly should be more like “Put your hands in the air,” said Duke. He glared over the shot gun, his teeth clenched in anger. Less synonyms and adverbs; more specific description.


And while I’m on dialogue, a dialogue tag is used to express words for said. Smiled, for instance, is not a way of speaking. “You look beautiful,” he smiled isn’t punctuated correctly. The comma rule says to put a comma to set off the dialogue tag, but “smiled” isn’t a way of speaking, so it doesn’t fit the rule. It should be “You look beautiful.” He smiled. Or, better, put “He smiled” first. 

So lesson one on the parts of speech is about action verbs. Make your writing action-packed. Use the active rather than the passive voice. Use more specific verbs. But when it comes to dialogue, simplify your dialogue tags and show rather than tell. 

***If you are a writer, looking for an editor, please visit this link and connect with me. http://jefflaferney.blogspot.com/p/the-red-pen-editor-page.html

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Days of Yesteryear for Better or Worse

I spent my childhood in the 60s and 70s. Obviously, life was different then. Was it better? Was it worse? Well, I’m going to be the judge of that because I’m listing fourteen random areas of difference and telling you if I think they were better, worse, or somewhere in between.
1.   Corporal punishment was allowed in school. I got a swat once for teasing a girl in class. The teacher who swatted me in front of my classmates barely caused me physical pain, but it embarrassed me—and my parents found out and punished me because in my day, the teacher was always right. I didn’t want another swat or home punishment, so my behavior changed. BETTER.
2.   We played vinyl records on record players—albums that scratched, skipped, or warped—and taped songs off the radio with portable cassette players. I remember building a “soundproof” fort and waiting for my favorite songs on the radio, hoping to record them without interruption from noise in the house. WORSE.
3.   Research was done with encyclopedias, library source books, or microfilm. Yeah, trolling the library was no fun (and in those days we were expected to be quiet). Topics were generally chosen based on whatever letter of the encyclopedia was available. Loading and spinning through microfilm was far too tedious. There was no internet! WORSE.
4.   We had to get up to change the TV channel or to change the antennae rotator or the volume. We only had one TV, so we also had to fight for our shows or (horror of horrors) find something else to do. Nowadays, I’ll scour the earth for the remote before going to the TV to change the channel or volume. WORSE.
5.   When a thermometer broke, we rolled the liquid-metal mercury around in the palms of our hands. We didn’t die. Now they shut down entire schools. PROBABLY WORSE.
6.   We didn’t wear helmets. I learned how to ride a bike by having my dad steady it until I got it moving myself, and then he’d let go and I’d ride until I fell either in the grass or on the cement sidewalk. We didn’t have in-line skates, skateboards, or many of the other cool rolling gadgets, so bike-riding was essential. We played hockey, rode motorcycles, and rode bikes and roller skates without helmets. I’m only partially brain damaged. BETTER…MAYBE.
7.   We played Jarts. You know…those arrows of death? Actually, we were smart enough to not get in the way of other gamers’ throws, and we let them land without having our skulls pierced. Maybe we had more common sense than people of today, and maybe having the government monitor our safety for us isn’t really all that necessary. Hey, there could be Jart helmets. BETTER.
 8.   We rode in the back of pickup trucks or on the top of the backseat in a  convertible. Does anyone remember sitting in the backseat of a station wagon,  looking out the back window at the other drivers? Do you remember having to  sit on the hump because almost all cars had rear-wheel drive (which was great  for doing donuts in parking lots in the winter)? There were no car seats, only  occasional seat belt usage, and sooner or later, we all “drove” the car while  sitting on our dad’s lap. I survived, believe it or not. BETTER…AND WORSE.
9.    We built our own forts and treehouses. There was a lot of pride in the  achievement, and though they were horribly built, they were ours. We made  the plans, chose and hauled the lumber scraps or branches, brought the tools,  and made something we were proud of. BETTER.
10.  We climbed to the tops of trees, jumped fences, swung on swing sets with legs  coming out of the ground, trespassed in the woods, designed our own bike    jumps, umpired and refereed our own neighborhood ball games, got in fights    and solved our own problems, and left the house in the morning only to come    home when our parents called for us from the front door for dinner (which we  ate as a family). We did all of those things without a cell-phone or a  microwave. BETTER.
11. Visits to church, hospitals, relatives’ homes, stores for shopping, etc. were  made without smartphones and tablets. We were bored…or we creatively found  something to do. Maybe we took a book to read. Maybe we interacted with  people. We probably learned proper etiquette and people skills. BETTER.
12. We attended drive-in movies. People hid in the trunk so they wouldn’t have to  pay. With our parents, we came in pajamas with pillows and blankets, and we  brought our own refreshments and strained to see the screen in the fading  daylight. As teenagers, we strolled around the “theater” or sat in open  hatchbacks with our friends. BETTER…OR NOT.
13. When we needed someone to hang out with, we went to their houses, knocked  on their doors, and asked if they could come out and play. Most of my school  friends in my day lived within six miles of my house, yet their phones were  long-distance to call, and my parents wouldn’t let me call them, so I had to  ride my bike to their houses. WORSE.
14.  We were grounded differently. I was grounded to my house or my room. Or  sometimes I was grounded to my yard. I was never grounded from my cell-  phone, computer, video games, or iPod (or whatever music source). When I  couldn’t leave to play with my friends or have friends over, I was miserable.  These days, parents can’t get kids to leave the house. I DON’T KNOW IF THIS IS  BETTER OR WORSE—JUST DIFFERENT.

And that’s the whole point. Things were different. Times evolve, rules of society change, culture differs, and standards of safety adjust. Things are different now, for better or worse, but for some of you, I’ve stirred your memories of “the good old days.” Do you think they were better or worse?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Death Threats Against University of Michigan Punter

I read recently about the demise of Twitter. The main idea of the article was that Twitter has become a haven of hate. Attacks are made on people simply because they don’t share the same opinion or because the attacker is simply an indecent human being. This past Saturday afternoon, I witnessed one of the best football games I’ve ever watched. My favorite team (the University of Michigan) looked to have a victory sewn up against our cross-town rival (Michigan State University) when a miracle occurred in the last ten seconds, handing U of M a heartbreaking defeat. Michigan’s punter dropped the snap, and in a panic to attempt to get a kick off, deposited the ball into the hands of an MSU player, who ran it in for a touchdown as the clock expired. Since then, the Twitter idiots and commenters on other forums have gone so far as to wish death upon the punter. What has our world come to?

I used to coach basketball, and one of the most important things I taught my players—preaching the concept to the extreme—was that we don’t make excuses. Over the years of coaching well over 500 games, there have been many times that the timekeeper or referee made an error at the end of the game. There were other times that one of my players made an error that “cost us the game.” I don’t deny the anger…the frustration…the desire to blame. But blaming the result of a game on one play or one call or one mistake is just plain stupid. Let me explain by giving one example from my coaching history.

I was coaching a team that was winless the year before. It was the first game of the year, and it was against one of the best teams in the conference. At the end of the game, with just two seconds remaining, we had a one-point lead and one of my players was fouled and was to shoot two free throws. I called a time out, and I told the four non-shooting players to stand at half court, so there was no way they could foul. I told my shooter (Al) that once he made the free throws (positive thinking), to back off. They’d have to make a miracle shot just to tie. But I also reminded him that if he happened to miss, they’d have to throw in a full-court shot to win it. The worst thing he could do would be to foul and give them free throws. So what did he do? He missed both free throws, and after the second miss, he fouled the other team’s best player, who made both of his free throws. We lost the game. It was Al’s fault, right? He missed shots that could have sealed the victory. He made a dumb foul. I should blame Al, right? Wrong.

Let me say first of all that we lost by just one point. We did not shoot 100% that game. We didn’t get every rebound. We committed fouls to put our opponents into the bonus before that fateful final foul. We blew defensive assignments during the game. We made turnovers. We missed free throws. At one point, we had a lead larger than one. If we had played better, made more shots, made less mistakes, had given up fewer points, Al’s free throws and foul wouldn’t have mattered. And while I’m mentioning Al, he had a really good game that day. He scored an unexpected nine points and had several steals and forced several other turnovers. We wouldn’t have been in a position to win without him. It wasn’t his fault we lost.

And it wasn’t Blake O’Neill’s fault Michigan lost. MSU had more total yards by a lot. They had a greater time of possession, had more first downs, got called for less penalties, made no turnovers, had a one-play 75-yard score on the play after it seemed Michigan put the game out of reach. Michigan’s running game was stopped. Who blew the defensive assignment on the 75-yard pass? Why did MSU’s quarterback pass for over 300 yards? Why was Michigan’s special teams unit preparing to tackle the punt returner when no returner was back? Why wasn’t the whole team defending MSU’s attempt to block the punt? Wasn’t the snap low? And by the way, wasn’t it Blake O’Neill who had an 80-yard punt? Wasn’t it O’Neill whose punts pinned the Spartans inside the 10-yard line three or four different times during the game? Isn’t O’Neill one of the best punters in the country? Blaming him and threatening him is as absurd as accepting that those giving out threats could actually play better than O’Neill themselves.

Several years ago, a Cubs fan by the name of Steve Bartman did what about 98% of all fans at a baseball game would do. He reached to catch a foul ball (out of the field of play). Video replays even show other fans attempting to do the same thing because, well, that’s what fans do at baseball games. I sure do, and I even caught one once. It made my day. Yet, other Cubs fans seem intent to blame him for the Cubs not winning the World Series. Really? Was that the only play of the game? (If caught, it would have actually only been the second out of the 8th inning). Didn’t the pitcher still have another opportunity to get the batter out who hit the foul ball? (He walked him). How did the other team score eight runs in the inning without other runners? (Shortstop Alex Gonzalez made an error on a sure inning-ending double-play ground ball before other hits and walks began to pile up). Didn’t the Cubs make 27 outs that game? Didn’t they have a chance to win game seven the next day? Are Cubs fans entitled to determine that the Cubs would have won the World Series had Steve Bartman not “interfered” with one batted ball in a playoff game prior to the World Series? Yet Bartman had death threats. One moment in time when he did what anyone would do ruined his life because of idiot “fans.” And by the way “fans,” isn’t it a game? I realize fan is short for fanatic, but seriously, did Steve Bartman’s instinctive action matter so much that he should fear for his life?

It’s a game, people. We watch the game for entertainment…diversion…a reason to get together with friends. Yes, we take pride in our teams. Yes, we get emotional, leading to anger and disappointment, at times. But in the course of a game, we also feel joy. We literally get nervous. We laugh and celebrate with our friends. We might even yell or throw things. But it’s a game. It’s a game in which Michigan fans felt hope and excitement. We celebrated Blake O’Neill’s prior punts. We got angry at instant replay calls that somehow were still inaccurately called, one of which was for a touchdown our team should have never been awarded. We’ve been watching our team play better this year than we expected, and we’re happy for it. But to go on Twitter and wish the death of a kid who dropped a snap is way overboard. To threaten his life should be punishable by law, and the idiots who could never do what Blake O’Neill is capable of doing should be fined or thrown in jail. He’s a kid playing a sport for our entertainment.


And by the way, you parents out there who berate your own children for not playing up to your absurd expectations…you need to back off. Your view of your own past athletic prowess is probably skewed, and your desire to live vicariously through your child’s feats should probably take a backseat to your love and devotion for your son or daughter. It’s a sport—a recreation. It’s a way for your son and daughter to make good friends, have good experiences, learn how to work hard, learn how to work together, learn how to deal with successes and failures, and learn who they are and what they’re made of. Sports and competition mirror real life in many ways, but one way they don’t mirror life is that they aren’t life and death. The idiots who want Blake O’Neill or Steve Bartman to suffer for their miniscule part in the loss of one game in one season need to back off and put their own life in the proper perspective. And lawmakers ought to be figuring out a way to punish people who threaten the lives of others in a public forum. Maybe that would stop idiots from hurting innocent people. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Ohio and West Virginia Roads Are Miserable

I’m from Michigan, and over a recent five day period—because of a trip to Florida and back (via North Carolina)—my wife and I drove through Ohio and West Virginia twice. This trip was on the heels of a trip just two weeks earlier when we helped my daughter move into an apartment in North Carolina to begin an internship at UNC (yes, the sky is Tar Heel blue)—so four times we were on those states’ wretched roads in about sixteen days.

Admittedly, I’m a University of Michigan graduate and fan, so my dislike of Ohio comes naturally, but I’m mature enough to admit that not all of Ohio and not all Ohioans are bad. Cedar Point is an amazing amusement park, and I’ve been to Kings Island as well. I’ve watched baseball games in Riverfront Stadium, Great America Ball Park, and Progressive Field. I attended college in Ohio for a year and a half. I’ve been to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Cincinnati Zoo, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I have friends who live in the state. It’s not all bad. But as a traveler, this I know: the entire state is under road construction. I mean the whole thing. Not only are the speed limits on the roads typically lower in Ohio and the police force seemingly more determined to give out speeding tickets than any state in the union, but Ohio has a massive toll road and 700 million miles of road construction.

Ohio has only two seasons—winter and road construction. That wasn’t a joke. I was stating a fact plainly named on the internet. Cleveland-based Plastic Safety Systems Inc. is one of the country's largest makers of orange construction barrels (I looked it up on Google), literally putting millions of dollars yearly into Ohio’s economy, while managing to keep their manufactured product almost exclusively on their home soil.  Industrywide (not just in Ohio), as many as 750,000 orange barrels are produced annually (another Google “fact”). Now, I’m certain that I-75 near Cincinnati, for instance, has been undergoing road construction non-stop (except in the winter “season”) for at least 30 years. Over 22 billion orange barrels have been produced in that period of time, and I’m convinced half of them can be found in Ohio since the entire state is currently under road construction. And by the way, can anyone tell me when I-75 at Cincinnati will be fixed? It seems inconceivable that there are construction workers who started working road crew as young adults who have retired, never having seen the section of road heading to that terrifying bridge over the Ohio River ever completed.
That brings me to concrete highway median barriers. More Google research says they are twenty feet long, two feet wide, and two feet eight inches tall—and they weigh approximately 8000 pounds each. Since I’m guessing there are a billion of them in Ohio (264 make up a single mile), that means there are eight thousand billion pounds of cement barricading every driving route in the state. Orange barrels are one thing—they’re designed to not wreck a car that happens to hit them, but an 8000 pound weight doesn’t tip over and fall away when a car hits it, so drivers white-knuckle their way through the entire geography of Ohio in hopes of survival—unless, of course, they are safely and securely stuck in one of a myriad of Ohio traffic jams the road construction causes throughout the state. Yeah, the only thing good about the roads in Ohio is that when driving north or south on I-77, they’re better than the roads of West Virginia.
This isn’t scientific, but I-77 runs through the entire state of West Virginia, so I took out a ruler, measured the legend on my atlas, and followed the route the expressway takes. The road should be less than 120 miles long. It’s 187. Yes, it’s more than 50% longer than the map says it is because it winds through the mountains at angles and grades that no one in their right mind would navigate unless they were determined to leave the road construction in Ohio behind and enter back into human civilization in Virginia (via an interesting tunnel through a mountain). No one would do that drive in the winter would they? There must be thousands of abandoned, destroyed vehicles at the bottom of mountain overlooks in West Virginia if people really do drive that route in the ice and snow. Seriously, I found an overhead, satellite view of the West Virginia Turnpike. It looks like this:
The Saturday Evening Post referred to that 88-mile section of road as "the Turnpike that goes to nowhere." Due to the difficulty and lives lost in its construction, it has also been called "88 miles of miracle.” It includes Charleston, which besides its golden-domed capitol building, doesn’t have much to look at—unless you discover the houses hidden in the mountainsides. Other than that, there seems to be no cities, no exits, and no signs of humanity along the turnpike except for in two places. Number one is the “service plazas” which are basically rest stops but are really refuges for the anxiety-riddled people who have braved the worst travel route in the United States. People exit their vehicles, kiss the pavement, throw-up in the rest rooms, eat long meals, and then take a Prozac before buckling up for the next section of road maze. Every bridge is called a “memorial” bridge named after a person I’ve never heard of, but most likely, he or she flew off a cliff in a Prozac-induced sleep. There are signs everywhere that say “Falling Rocks.” That –ing word is in the present perfect progressive tense, describing an action that began in the past, continues in the present, and may continue into the future. In other words, while drivers are grasping the steering wheel in a death grip, maneuvering through roads that go every direction except flat and straight, they are to look to the mountain walls out of their peripheral vision for rocks hurtling through the air in hopes of avoiding the pulverization of their vehicles.
The only other place for humanity is at the toll booths. Now, I’m sorry, but there’s no way I believe there are sane people who drive to and from home to set up shop in those toll booths on a daily basis. Either they’re insane or they are violent criminals on work release who inevitably will crash to their deaths before their prisons terms expire. The only other option is that they rock climb to work to begin their shifts and rappel home when they’re finished. The way the roads wind, I think all three toll stops are actually within a “falling rock” from each other and the whole turnpike is simply a legislative joke to raise money and convince non-West Virginian natives to never consider living in the state. The toll booth workers rappel home to their houses built into clefts in the wall or to spelunker into caves below the surface of the planet. In the meantime, white-knuckled drivers are motoring in weaving, winding circles for 88 miles only to come out five miles ahead of where they started. They could have hiked it faster and more safely.

On our last trip through on Monday, my brakes were grinding and my air conditioner stopped working. I had to turn the radio off because the only sound I could pick up was static. I had to turn my phone to airplane mode because the battery was draining while roaming for a signal that most assuredly didn’t exist. I’m certain no phone company is willing to risk employees’ lives to install cell phone towers in the middle of virgin earth, so the only thing we could do while driving through the state was sweat and pray. Well, we made it through four times in sixteen days, and for the time being, I love the state of Michigan to degrees I’d never experienced in the past. Maybe the next time we go to Florida, we’ll fly.  

If you happen to be interested in my novels, click on the links at the top of the page and to the right or visit Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Jeff+LaFerney or Barnes & Noble: 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Top Ten Things Everyone Can Do--Except Me

Everywhere we look, there are “Top 10” lists, so I figured I’d jump on the bandwagon yet try to come up with something that’s unique. So, while I often make lists on my blog, I’ve yet to have a scientifically provable “Top 10.” Here’s my first effort—the top 10 things that apparently are easy for everyone but me (told you it was scientific).

1.    North, south, east, west directions. I’m in a building and someone says that the help desk is in the southwest corner or a car in the east parking lot has its lights on. Uh, I’m inside. I can’t see the sun. I don’t have a magnetized needle or moss on a tree to help me. How am I supposed to know where the northeast exit is? Yet, you could blindfold my wife, lead her inside a building, spin her around until she’s dizzy, and ask which way’s north, and she’d know.
2.    Touch my toes with my legs straight. My son once took the Presidential Fitness Test. I don’t know…it seemed like there were about a hundred things to do, all of which he exceeded easily. But he had to stretch beyond his toes, and he couldn’t, so that disqualified him from the award (because stretching like a gymnast is the end-all to physical fitness). Well, he comes across it honestly. His dad can barely stretch beyond his knees. And apparently, a person’s tight hamstrings are responsible for every back, knee, groin, and foot pain, so because I can’t reach my ankles, I’m destined to inhale ibuprofen like they’re M & M’s .
3.    Change a door knob. Don’t you dare laugh. This is what happens to me. First, I can’t remove the old one without a hacksaw. Second, the first time through takes twenty minutes to line up the holes, hold the pieces without spinning or falling, lose a screw or two, dent or scratch something, and re-adjust everything. Third, the latch is always going to be in the wrong direction when I finish, so I have to start over. There are two indisputable truths to my home fix-ups. One, I will never ever get it right the first time, or two, I will break whatever I’m “fixing”—door knobs included.
4.    Cook chicken so it’s not too dry to swallow. Colonel Sanders can hire anyone in the universe to make his chicken juicy and edible. Ya Ya’s, Chick-fil-A, Church’s, Popeye’s, and every sit-down restaurant in the world can make moist chicken. Every grandmother in the history of mankind can do it. Heck, Medieval wanderers always have juice running down their chins as they eat their poultry, cooked over an open fire while skewered on a stick, but I could boil my chicken in broth, and when I eat it, it’s dry as sawdust.
5.    Remember jokes. I can remember details from games I played in from junior high. I can remember baseball statistics, names, and records over a century old. But if you tell me a joke, it flies out of my head forever. I can’t seem to quote a single funny joke or tell it right if I try. That part of my head that seems to get speared by a nail every time I venture into my garage attic must be the part that remembers jokes.
6.    Wind a rope or hose or Christmas lights. First of all, I’m nearly phobic of all string-like objects because experience has told me that they’re unquestionably alive. No matter if I manage to wind them perfectly, they’ll be in knot that only Maniac McGee could untie when I go to use it again. So I’m just as sure that those objects fight me when I try to wind them carefully. Right…simply wrap it around my thumb and elbow…turning the object into a twisted pile of unrecognizable crap that’ll be impossible to untangle when it wiggles into a permanent mega-knot while in its safe storage place.
   It would "imply" that strings are alive, which they clearly are.
7.    Use a pipe wrench. My father-in-law blessed me with pipe wrenches for a Christmas present early in my marriage. I can say without hesitation that not one time I’ve attempted to use them have they worked. Well, they’ve scratched up and scarred everything I’ve tried to tighten or loosen, but they’ve never tightened or loosened one single thing. The guy who invented them couldn’t have been thinking correctly when he made those sharp teeth that sit at an angle instead of being flat to fit all the bolts and pipes that they’re meant to turn. And that little knob to tighten the wrench—with my fingers—has yet to tighten it beyond the point of slipping off and scratching anything it touches.
8.   Tread water. Right, I’ll just lean back and lightly wave my arms and lightly kick my feet and I’ll float the day away. For me, it’s more like flailing my arms like I’m trying to fly instead of float and kicking my feet like I’m trying to rid them of spider webs by the force of my panicked motion. What I’m much better at is sinking and drowning than I am at floating. I can tread water for exactly fourteen point three seconds before I’m so tired I start fearing for my life. I couldn’t tread water in the Dead Sea…with an inflatable tube around my stomach. I’m of the opinion if I was supposed to float at the top of the water, my body should be duck-shaped and my arms and feet should be propellers.
9.    Spell rendezvous…or lingerie, hors d'oeuvres, khakis, diarrhea, fuchsia, hemorrhage, lieutenant, or zucchini. Okay, hardly anyone can spell them, but it bugs me that I can’t either, and my spell checker doesn’t even know what I wrote. You know those times when it gives you a different word choice not even in the same ballpark, or it says “no suggestions”? I’m an English major, for crying out loud. I ought to be close enough to get a suggestion.
10. Understand the guy (or gal) who talks at the end of every radio advertisement. Oh, you know what I’m talking about. The guy who talks so fast that in ten seconds he says more than the rest of the commercial said in fifty. The guy who doesn’t ever breathe and says words at such an alarming rate I vow to never purchase anything from the company for fear the fine print he’s spewing at the speed of neurons might rob me of my entire net worth. I feel stupid I can’t hear fast enough to keep up with what he’s saying, and I’ll never purchase anything with fine print so fast it breaks the sound barrier. You can understand him though, right?







As I wrote this, I came to realize I’m pretty pathetic. The list could have gone well beyond ten. What are things you can’t do that seemingly are easy for everyone else?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Should Indie Authors Give Their e-Books Away?




I admit to coming into this blog with my mind made up, but to be fair, I did some research and read some articles. There are people who believe that giving e-books away is a good thing and some who don’t, so I’m going to present both arguments in brief form.

There are some good reasons to have free e-book giveaways. First, in theory, it’s a way to get more reviews. When people read the freebie, some will review it. Second, it’s a way to develop deeper customer relationships by directing readers to newsletters, webpages, or author pages for interaction. Third, it could motivate the e-book reader to actually purchase a printed version if they genuinely enjoyed the e-book. Fourth, in theory, it could motivate readers to purchase additional books by the same author, especially if the free book is part of a series. Fifth, of all the gazillion titles available on Amazon, the vast majority aren’t free, so free books could possibly zoom up the charts and get exposure that an author could never get for purchased books. After the free days, and the book is re-priced for purchase, sometimes there are residual sales, so that is when royalties would be made. And sixth, it gives unknown authors an opportunity to get their books into the hands of people who otherwise have never heard of them and wouldn’t be willing to risk money to give the author a chance.

So what are the reasons given to not have free e-books giveaways? The first reason is that the market place has become oversaturated with daily free e-books. Books are no longer zooming up lists and having the residual effects that they once were having. Secondly, because consumers are seeing so many free titles available, over time, they are beginning to devalue the worth of books. Free books are so abundant, that readers are less and less willing to spend money. Thirdly, the free book giveaways, especially in the flooded market, are not doing what they are supposed to do—get reviews, develop customer relations, and generate sales on printed versions or other works by the author. Fourthly, no other professionals in the book business are expected to work for nothing. Editors, designers, promoters, publishers, bloggers, and advertisers are all making money on an indie author’s books. If the author hadn’t created the book, there would be no need for anyone else, so why is the author the only one who isn’t expected to make money? Fifthly, what other profession do we ask the proprietors to give their work away for free? An author puts in time, sacrifice, worry, and discipline. An author develops and perfects and practices his or her skills and craft. What an author does is worthy of compensation. Finally, people are accumulating so many free books that there is almost no chance that they’re reading them, but even if they do, and they like a specific author’s book, there are so many other free books available, that they’ll wait around for the author’s next giveaway, rather than purchasing the books.
shameless self-promotion
I have to say, as I researched and wrote the pros and cons, my opinion didn’t change. I don’t think authors should do free book giveaways. I’ve given two books away—my first two of five that I’ve published. I gave the second one away first, and it worked—about four full years ago. A couple thousand people downloaded it. Afterward, in the next few months, my sales improved dramatically. I made some money. I didn’t see an increase in the sale of my first book, however, and though I kept waiting for reviews, there were only a couple that may have been from the free downloads. About six months later I tried my first book. The number of downloads was embarrassingly low compared to Skeleton Key. I saw no sales jump in either of my books, and I didn’t get a single review that I felt might have come from the giveaway. It didn’t work at all. So I’ve had both experiences. But I was a newbie. I wanted to get my book in people’s hands, and I had more than one book, so I thought giving one away would help sell the other also. Times have changed in the last four years, however, and now I don’t like the idea at all.

Here are my reasons.

First of all, though I’m sure there are many exceptions and many people will disagree, what I’ve been reading and hearing is that most authors are seeing no significant evidence that giving away their books is getting them additional reviews and the expected increase in sales once the book is no longer free. For other books the author has written, there is little to no increase in the amount of sales either. It used to work better, so why are the numbers low now? I think it’s because the market has been bombarded with free books. People download gobs of them and never read them. Do you know what books they read first? Books they pay for. Those are the ones they’ve invested in. I’ve downloaded a ton of free books. I don’t think I’ve read any of them unless they were from new author friends or were books friends recommended. I have so many paperbacks on my shelves and books on my Kindle that I purchased because I genuinely want to read them that I doubt I’ll ever get to the freebies. That means I won’t buy the author’s next book. I won’t review it. If I ever read it, it might be years from now.

Secondly, there are so many free books on the market that I could go without ever purchasing another book if I so chose. The market is saturated with them. I have an author friend whose writing I love. I’ve read three or four of her books, but I have nine of them on my Kindle. She keeps writing good books, and she keeps giving them away, and I keep downloading them. I’m not cheap. I purchase lots of books, but when I see hers for free, I nab them in case I get a chance to read them someday. I have another author friend who gave away a zillion free books years ago when she first started writing. People were buying them too. It worked. Then her second book came out and she gave it away also. And a lot less people bought that one. After her third book—which she also gave away—she reached the conclusion that her “fans” were just waiting for her to eventually give her new books away. It was like she had to start all over and find a new fan base because she was hardly making any sales.

My third reason is not theoretical or disprovable like my first two. My third reason that books shouldn’t be free is that it devalues the product. I spend hundreds of hours on my books, researching, interviewing, planning, writing, revising, editing, and promoting. I, like most authors, have even invested my own money driving, purchasing swag, and paying editors, bloggers, advertisers, and designers. Why do I spend all that time and money producing a work of art that I’m proud of and everyone but me makes money off it? Editors aren’t editing for free. Designers aren’t designing for free. I think you get the point.

Fourth—a point similar to my third—is that giving away the books devalues the author’s effort. Every other person in the world wants to get paid for their work. I go to craft shows and art shows to sell my books in public quite often. People aren’t walking through the show expecting all the vendors to give them their products. Those vendors spent their valuable time and resources creating the products, but more importantly, they put their talent into the work. Athletes, musicians, and actors get paid for their time and talents. Authors should too. But the more people who give away their books, the less a consumer is willing to pay for others.



I understand the theories that a new author wants to be discovered or authors want to get more reviews or authors believe by giving away one book, people will purchase their others. However, from what I’m gathering, those things used to happen but are no longer a guarantee. People with multiple books are seeing consumers wait around for the next free book. I’m convinced that there are Kindle and Nook download addicts that download book after book without any expectation of reading them, and authors are giving away book after book because a handful of fortunate authors praise the idea of giving them away. Some authors actually pay advertising companies to promote their free book! People with one book are actually giving it away, and there is nothing new for their readers to buy.

Here’s one more thing to consider. Every day I get emails from advertisers like Read Freely, Read Cheaply, Free Booksy, Free Kindle Books and Tips, and The E-Reader Café. Lately, I’m seeing books by some really well-known authors. I saw The Maze Runner recently, for instance. Those books have yet to be free. They’re surrounded by titles by indie authors for free, yet the well-known authors’ books are not. They’re discounted, but not free. Do you think the authors who are making money know something that we don’t? I think they realize that giving away books is no way to be compensated for all the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into their work.


If you’re an indie author and you’re thinking of giving away your books, how about giving them away to people who promise to do a review or as gifts in contests for people who follow your author page and interact with you personally? How about giving them to libraries or proofreaders or beta readers or family members or friends who you know will talk you up? If you want to do a special promotion, just discount your book. I know I, for one, am far more likely to read your book if I pay for it. And isn’t that what you want me to do? Read it? As this market of free books continues to explode, it’s beginning to put the rest of us out of business. You and I deserve to make some money on the ten or twenty or fifty hours of entertainment we give our readers. We need to stop letting everyone else make money off our books while we don’t. Remember, without our books, none of those other people could make a cent. Giving it away minimizes what we’ve done, so I’m standing on my soapbox calling out that we need to stop the insanity—or at least slow it to a trickle. I’m of the firm opinion that e-books have monetary value.